|Topical Bible Study||January 1958|
Times and Signs Series—Article I
God’s Appointed Times
“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” —Habakkuk 1:2
THROUGHOUT all the centuries of human misery the cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” has gone up from the hearts of those who have loved righteousness and have been pained by the sin and suffering with which they were surrounded. It has seemed to most of these as it did to Habakkuk, that the Lord did not hear them when they cried, or if he did hear, either he was indifferent to the evils which plague mankind, or was powerless to do anything about it.
Habakkuk’s immediate concern were the sins of his people which at that time were erupting into violence against one another. He asked the Lord, “Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.” This prophet had been commissioned by God to serve Israel and to correct her wrongs, yet to him it seemed that all his efforts were to no avail. So it has seemed to the vast majority of those who, during the reign of sin and death, have endeavored faithfully to serve the Lord.
As Habakkuk studied the situation with which he was surrounded in Israel, it appeared to worsen rather than to improve. He wrote, “The law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” (vs. 4) Not only was sin rampant throughout the nation, but no serious attempt was being made to curb the wrongdoers. The unrighteous had control of law enforcement, therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.”
The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk’s prayer is interesting and revealing. We quote: “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.”—vss. 5,6
In other words, the Lord explained to Habakkuk that he would use the Chaldeans to punish Israel. This “bitter and hasty nation,” the Lord explained, would be ruthless, and would take many prisoners. He said, “They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.”—vs. 9
From this Habakkuk would know that the Lord intended to do something about the sins of his people; but still his ways were shrouded in mystery, so in prayer he sought further information. He said to the Lord, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and boldest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”—vs. 13
While Habakkuk lamented the sins of Israel he could not understand why the Lord would use those even more sinful as his instruments of retribution. At the conclusion of his petition for an understanding of the Lord’s ways in this difficult situation he said to himself, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he [the Lord] will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am argued with.”—Hab. 2:1, margin
And the Lord did answer his prophet, He said, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (ch. 2:2,3) In this reply to Habakkuk the Lord takes the subject out of the purely local setting with which Habakkuk was concerned, and places it in a setting which encompasses his entire purpose toward the sin-sick and dying race.
Habakkuk was concerned, and properly so, with the immediate difficulties which then confronted the nation of Israel. But the Lord is interested, and always has been, in the well-being of all mankind. His purpose in permitting evil, and his plan for destroying it, is concerned not with one nation alone but with all nations, and it is for the understanding of this larger aspect of the permission of evil that God’s people in every age have sought.
The “Appointed Time”
The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk gave him little or no comfort with respect to his concern over the sins of Israel. However, if he grasped its import to any extent he would realize that the Lord had not only this situation well in hand, but that eventually righteousness will triumph over evil throughout all the earth. The “vision,” or understanding, of the Lord’s viewpoint with respect to evil was for an “appointed time,” that “time” being “at the end,” when the “vision” would “speak and not lie.”
In Hebrews 10:35-38 Paul quotes from the Lord’s statement to Habakkuk concerning the vision that would speak at the “appointed time” and would not tarry, and the apostle indicates that the fulfillment of it takes place at the time of Christ’s second visit to earth. He quoted from Habakkuk to encourage the Hebrew brethren to be patient in their waiting on the Lord. They knew that the promised Messiah had come; that he had been crucified and raised from the dead. But he had gone away, and when would he return? Paul wanted them to be assured that it would be in God’s “appointed time,” and that there would be no tarrying of the divine plan.
Christ the Deliverer
God has made it plain in his Word that the deliverance of mankind from sin and death, and the destruction of all evil, is to be accomplished by Christ, the promised Messiah, The Old Testament prophets foretold his coming and work. But not until he did come at his first advent did the Lord’s people understand that the Messiah was to visit the earth twice—the first time he was to die as the Redeemer of the people; the second time to reign as King in a kingdom, or government, which was to be world-wide.—Isa. 9:6,7
There was an appointed time in the divine plan for both of these visits. Concerning the death of the Savior we read, “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:6) Four thousand years of sin and suffering had passed before this great event in the divine plan occurred, but it was exactly on time.
More than nineteen centuries have passed since, and throughout all that time only a small minority of earth’s population have even heard of Jesus, and fewer still have gained a real understanding of the divine plan of salvation which is centered in him. But this does not mean that God’s plan has failed. It is simply that the “due time” has not yet arrived for the world in general to be adequately informed concerning Jesus and the real import of his death.
Writing to Timothy concerning an important aspect of the work of Christ during his second visit to earth, Paul said, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:3-6
Time of First Advent Foretold
It was with good authority that Paul wrote, “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:6) Through the Prophet Daniel the Lord had foretold this “due time.” We quote, “After threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself.” (Dan. 9:26) The “cutting off” mentioned here refers to Jesus’ death, for which, it should be noted, this prophecy establishes the “due time.”
The understanding of this prophecy is not difficult, although it is essential to take into consideration the circumstances which form its background. It was given near the close of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. The prophet Daniel was one of the Hebrew captives, although, because of his ability and trustworthiness, he had been exalted to the position of Prime Minister, first under Nebuchadnezzar, and continuing until Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire.
But Daniel did not allow his high position in a Gentile government to interfere with serving his own people and being interested in their standing before Jehovah their God. In chapter 9, verse 2 of Daniel’s prophecy we find him saying, “I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” See Jeremiah 25:8-11; II Chron. 36:20-23
From this we learn that there was an “appointed time” for Israel’s captivity in Babylon; namely, seventy years. When Daniel made reference to this, the conclusion of the foretold seventy years was approaching. In the preceding chapter, Daniel records a vision the Lord had given to him in which were portrayed events that seemed to Daniel to be the distant future. In this vision it was revealed that one of the powerful kings he saw in this vision would “destroy the mighty and the holy people,” and that he would stand up “against the Prince of princes.”—Dan. 8:18-25
To climax this forecast of calamitous events it was said to Daniel, “Shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.” (vs. 26) With this, Daniel “fainted, and was sick.” (vs. 27) He apparently feared that the foretold seventy years of captivity might be continued, and wondered if the “many days” of chapter 8, verse 26, referred to a period of calamity beyond the seventy years.
Since Daniel had studied the prophecy of Jeremiah, it is not unlikely that he was acquainted with the lesson set forth in chapter 18, verses 1 to 9—the lesson taught to the prophet by observing the potter. Jeremiah wrote, “I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”—vss. 3,4
In verse 6 we read, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.” Continuing the Lord explains, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.”—vss. 7-10
Daniel might easily understand from this lesson that although God had set a fixed time of seventy years for Israel’s captivity in Babylon, nevertheless their punishment was to be extended; for as Daniel well knew the people had not learned the needed lesson, continuing to be disobedient to God and to his Law. So Daniel went to the Lord in prayer, passionately asking him to extend mercy to his people.
This prayer is recorded in Daniel 9:3-19, and is most eloquent in its appeal to Jehovah on behalf of his chosen people. Verse 5 reads, “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from the precepts and from thy judgments.” Verses 8 and 9 read, “O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him.”
And finally: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” (vs. 19) Thus did the faithful Daniel plead to God on behalf of is people, asking God not to “defer” the time when they could return to their own land and to their own city, Jerusalem.
Daniel explains that while he was thus praying on behalf of Israel, “the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision [recorded in preceding chapter] at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.” (vss. 20,21) Gabriel explained to Daniel that his prayer had been heard, and that he had been sent to give him “skill and understanding.”—vs. 22
Since Daniel was assured that his prayer had been heard, he would know that the foretold seventy years of captivity were not to be extended. And then, through Gabriel, the Lord gave his faithful servant another vision. As we noted in the case of Habakkuk, the Lord lifted his mind away from his immediate concern for a local situation in Israel and told him of a vision which would speak “at the end,” and would not tarry; so with Daniel, the vision he was now given superseded Israel’s immediate experiences as captives in Babylon, and took his mind down through the centuries to the coming of the long promised Messiah.
To Daniel, the coming of the Messiah was to be the solution of all Israel’s problems as well as the problems of the whole world. Although Daniel saw the Lord’s people persecuted and trodden down in the previous visions given to him, there was no real excuse for him to “faint” and to be “sick,” since God’s promises pertaining to the Messiah and his triumphant kingdom were to be fulfilled.—ch. 8:27
The vision given to Daniel in answer to his prayer for the forgiveness of his people was in reality a time prophecy. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people,” said Gabriel to Daniel, “and upon thy holy city.” (ch. 9:24) In verses 25 through 27 these seventy weeks are divided into three periods—“seven weeks,” “three-score and two weeks,” and “one week.”
The “seven weeks” plus “three-score and two weeks” were to reach “unto Messiah the prince.” This time measurement was to begin from “the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” Not only, therefore, did Gabriel assure Daniel that his prayer had been heard, but from this he would know that it was to be favorably answered. The closing words of Daniel’s prayer were, “O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.”—ch. 9:19
“For thy city”—Jerusalem had been destroyed at the beginning of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. But now Daniel was told that a decree would go forth authorizing it to be rebuilt. This meant that the captivity would end, as God had promised, and that “seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” from the time authority would be given to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah would come.
Most students of prophecy agree., and it is confirmed by secular history, that Israel’s seventy years of captivity in Babylon began in 606 B.C., ending in 536 B.C. Even those who hold to other dates for the period of the captivity vary from this one by less than a hundred years. It is certain, therefore, that there was to be a lapse of hundreds of years between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah.
Confronted by this fact, we are forced to the realization that the “seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks” must be a symbolic time measurement, for sixty-nine literal weeks would be a period of only about sixteen months. But if the “weeks” of this prophecy are not units of seven literal days, how can we determine how long they really are? Through the Prophet Ezekiel the Lord reveals that in symbolic time he considers each day to represent a year. (Ezek. 4:6) Sixty-nine weeks on this basis would, therefore, be 483 symbolic days, or 483 literal years.
We can see at a glance that 483 years come very near to bridging the gap between the conclusion of Israel’s captivity and the coming of Christ. However, there are two other factors to be taken into consideration before we can appreciate how minutely accurate this time prophecy really is. First it reaches to “Messiah the prince.” Jesus was not Messiah the Prince when he was born. The word Messiah means “Anointed One,” and Jesus was not anointed with the Holy Spirit until he was thirty years of age. See Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:23, and Acts 10:37,38
It was in the fall of A.D. 29 that Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and thus became “Messiah the Prince.” Subtracting these twenty-nine years from the “seven weeks and threescore and two” symbolic weeks would leave 454, which would be the B.C. date established by this prophecy. But this is eighty-two years short of the 536 B.C. date we have seen marked the end of Israel’s captivity. This means that there is another factor which needs to be taken into consideration before we have the full truth on this wonderful prophecy.
Gabriel told Daniel that this time measurement would begin “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” (Dan. 9:25) At the end of the seventy years’ captivity, King Cyrus issued a decree authorizing the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, but said nothing about rebuilding the city itself, or its walls. See Ezra 1:1-4. Some have hastily concluded that this is the decree referred to in the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks, but it is not.
Under the authority of the decree issued by Cyrus, work was begun on rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. But there were enemies in the land who opposed the project. They dispatched a letter to King Artaxerxes, which stated, “Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.”—Ezra 4:12
This was largely a misrepresentation, for actually it was the temple that was being rebuilt, not the city and the walls. But these enemies of the Jews were clever enough to know that no authority had been given to rebuild the city and its walls, and on the basis of this they hoped that they could induce the king to place a ban on all work of reconstruction. And he did, temporarily.
The king sent back a letter, which in part read, “Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.” (Ezra 4:21) Later, on the basis of this letter, Israel’s enemies succeeded in stopping reconstruction work on the temple, but only temporarily. “It ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”—Ezra 4:24
Then a letter was sent by the Jews to Darius asking him to have the records searched for the decree of Cyrius authorizing the rebuilding of the temple. Darius honored this request, and the decree of Cyrus pertaining to the temple was found, and the work was permitted to go on until it was completed.—Ezra 5:4-17
Now this may seem like much detail, but it is important, for it establishes without question the fact that the time measurement of “seven weeks, threescore and two weeks” did not have its beginning with the decree of Cyrus which was issued at the close of the captivity. So far as his decree was concerned, the city and walls of Jerusalem could not have been rebuilt, for Artaxerxes directed that the work cease until he gave commandment for it to continue.
Persia had two kings named Artaxerxes of interest to Bible students, and it was the first of these who commanded that the walls and city of Jerusalem not be rebuilt. Apparently he reigned only eight months, and historians are inclined to the view that he was an impostor. But, impostor or not, his command halted the work of reconstruction of the city and walls of Jerusalem.
It was not until the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes II that this ban was lifted. It came about through the zeal of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a faithful Jew living in Persia, serving as cup-bearer to Artaxerxes. In this position he had opportunity to appear daily before the king.
Certain Jews of Jerusalem had come to visit him. He “asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.” Their report saddened Nehemiah, as well it might. He wrote, “They said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept.”—Neh. 1:2-4
Then Nehemiah prayed earnestly to the Lord for direction and help in connection with an appeal he decided to make to the king. So, as Nehemiah reports it, “I took up the wine, and gave it unto the king. Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence.” But Nehemiah was sad this time, which was noticed by the king, who asked concerning the cause. Nehemiah explained that it was the lamentable condition of his people, and the fact that the city of his fathers’ sepulchers “lieth waste.” The king realized that Nehemiah was building up to the point of asking a favor, and said, “For what dost thou make request?”—Neh. 2:1-4
Nehemiah was straightforward with his request—“If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchers, that I may build it.” And then Nehemiah adds, “The king said unto me (the queen also sitting by him), For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased’ the king to send me; and I set him a time.”—ch. 2:5,6
Here, then, is the decree, or authority, that was given for rebuilding the city and walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked to be sent to Judah for this purpose, and it pleased the king to send him. Dr. Hale’s work on chronology, and Dr. Priestlie’s treatise on the “Harmony of the Evangelists,” set the date of Nehemiah’s mission to be B.C. 454. “Seven weeks and threescore and two weeks,” or 483 years from this date, bring us to 29 A.D. This is the date which, as we have seen, Jesus became “Messiah the prince.”
First to Redeem
Here, then, is a time prophecy of the first advent of Jesus. And notice how clearly it states the main objective of his first coming. It was “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”—Dan. 9:24
Much of the work thus described was accomplished by the death of Jesus. It is his shed blood that constitutes the basis for reconciliation with God. It was his death that opened the way to “everlasting righteousness,” rather than the mere temporary and partial righteousness made possible by the sacrifice of “bulls and goats.” His coming as the Messiah exactly at the time foretold sealed “the vision and prophecy.” The anointing of the “most Holy” is probably a reference to the work of selecting the saintly ones of this age to be his partners in the kingdom beginning with the holy remnant of the Jewish nation. (2nd Vol. pg. 70) This work was authorized by him by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the waiting disciples at Pentecost. This is where the anointing which came upon him began to reach his followers, constituting them the anointed class with him.
All of this was to be accomplished at the end of the seventy symbolic weeks. It was at the close of the sixty-ninth of these “weeks” that Jesus began his ministry. It was after this, according to the prophecy, that the Messiah was to be “cut off, but not for himself.” He was cut off in death for the sins of the world. (ch. 9:26) Verse 27 states that in the “midst of the week,” that is, of the seventieth week, “he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” This seems to be a reference to ending the typical sacrifices offered year by year by Israel’s priests. There would be no need for these after the death of Jesus as the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29,36
The prophecy states that the Messiah would “confirm the covenant with many for one week.” (vs. 27) This also is a reference to the seventieth week, which began with the baptism of Jesus. God had made a special covenant with Israel. He had promised, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.”—Exod. 19:5,6
This was but a further statement of the promise made to Abraham that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. His natural descendants were exclusively entitled to be the “seed” of blessing under this promise. As later revealed, there were to be two parts to this seed, the earthly and the heavenly; although not until the coming of Christ was anything understood concerning the heavenly seed. However, all the truly faithful ones down through the centuries before he came qualified to be of the earthly seed. They will, as “princes in all the earth,” share in the foretold work of blessing.
But the exclusiveness of God’s promise concerning the blesser nation was conditional—“If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant.” The captivity in Babylon was due to a failure on the part of the nation as a whole to meet this condition. And now Daniel was told that seventy symbolic weeks, or 490 years, had been determined upon his people, at the end of which the “transgression” would be finished, and an end made of sin. He was assured, however, that the “covenant” would be confirmed, or continued operative until the full end of the seventieth week.
The expression, “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins,” is comparable to the one found in Ezekiel 21:25, which was made to Judah’s last king, Zedekiah—“Thou profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have a end.” This simply meant that the Lord would no longer tolerate the nation’s iniquity in the sense of permitting them to continue as a free nation with their own king. But he did continue his exclusive covenant with them in the sense that the opportunity to become coblessers with Jesus was not then extended to the Gentiles.
It was the conclusion of this covenant that was to take place at the end of the seventy weeks. Jesus conducted his ministry during the first half of this symbolic week. He understood that his Father’s promise to Israel thus confined his ministry and the ministry of his disciples to this one nation. He warned the people, however, what to expect. He said that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.—Matt. 21:43
The prophecy states that Jesus was to be cut off “in the midst of the week”—and he was. Undoubtedly Jesus understood this time prophecy. This is why he knew when “his hour” had come. This is why Paul could write that “in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
After his resurrection Jesus also knew that there was but a short time left—half a symbolic week, or three and one-half years—before the full end of God’s exclusive covenant with Israel would end, and that then it would be in harmony with the divine plan for the Gospel to go to the Gentiles. So, when he met with his disciples for the last time, he commissioned them to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”—Acts 1:8
Jesus apparently realized that if his disciples began their work in Jerusalem, and then expanded it into Judea and Samaria, it would be three and a half years before the Gentiles were reached. Cornelius was the first Gentile convert, and although historians find it difficult to establish the exact date of his conversion, there is little doubt that it occurred in the fall of A.D. 36, which would be the full end of the “seventieth week.” How fitting it is that the Lord calls special attention to this conversion, as recorded in Acts, chapter 10.
The completeness of the “seventy weeks” time prophecy given to Daniel is remarkable. Not only did it foretell the exact time when the Messiah would begin his ministry, and explain that he would die for the sins of the people, but it also mentions the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation that would come upon Israel as a result of the nation’s failure to accept their king.—vss. 26,27
But, as is the case with all the prophecies of the Bible, whether they contain the element of time or not, no one of them encompasses, even briefly, the entire plan of God. So, for this reason, we will need to continue our study of time and signs.